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  • Writer's pictureCarolyn Shaw

People Pleasing Recovery

People Pleasing. Low Key Insanity with a High Risk Rate.

The first time I finally accepted I needed some professional support was the day I consciously got an unwanted, considerably sized, tattoo. After a few months of deliberation, the artist had revealed to me their creation. And, it was nothing like I had envisioned or we had discussed. My heart sunk and raced, as I gathered up some courage to see if “they’d mind” changing a thing or two.

Annoyed, they went into the back to see what they could do. I stared at the exit debating. My avoidant self said ‘run girl, go fast this is not for you’. My rational self said it's all good, just explain ‘you need more time’, like a normal grown ass women would do. But the people pleaser in me… she had this, no hesitations or questions asked:

The artist came back “what about this?”

“Oh my this is amazing, I love it, thank you!”

Surprised by my level of enthusiasm, but not surprised at all, I could hear rational me pleading and begging, “what the hell did you just do?!” The people pleaser in me said ‘it’s fine, we’re fine, it’s nothing at all.’ I comforted myself by planning the day it would be removed.

This was not my first or worst encounter of such a caliber. But it was the moment I realized that people pleasing is not all kindness and flashy smiles.

It is low key insanity. A serious problem with a high risk rate.

I’ve jumped out multiple windows, almost moved to another country, taken jobs I didn’t want, gone on dates I didn’t want to go on, had friends I didn’t want to have, had seriously questionable roommates because I felt bad, landed myself in the hospital, eaten meat when I didn’t eat meat, eaten food so others wouldn’t feel bad, said yes when I meant hell no, worn a smile when it was really tears or a frown, bought many unnecessary and unaffordable things so retail employees wouldn’t feel bad, and those sample sales people would spot me in any crowd…. vitamins, personalized socks, figurine chickens… I’ll take them all. I’ve found myself in extremely odd and awkward situations because the people pleaser in me would prevail at no costs. I’ve avoided, houdinied, and ghosted many people in fear that I would displease them. I’ve assumed the role of being wrong, so others could feel right. I learned how to shape shift like a chameleon, so I could fit in and out of sight. I can laugh at some things, and others there’s still a twinge of disbelief, but the risk of all of these behaviours is the highest risk of all. Being pulled out of alignment with who you really are. People pleasing is a coping mechanism for many, and something I have somewhat learned to be in awe of. My commitment to this role was admirable. Total insanity yes. But nonetheless I did what I knew how to do in order to feel safe.

As a people pleaser I had no boundaries. Couldn’t have even told you where they were, or what they are. Got an issue, need attention, feeling down or crazy? No problem lay it on me. I was always fascinated, and I am still beyond grateful, by some of the incredibly diverse people that would walk into my life. Strangers pouring their hearts out, people telling me their life stories in the matter of moments. Meeting strangers turned roommates at the bus stops, potential friends and lovers anywhere I’d go. But I always felt drained, burdened, and towards the end of my people pleasing career, resentful AF. It took me far too many weird incidences, relationships, and encounters later, to figure out why things kept repeating themselves the way they did. It’s because I had no boundaries, and relied on external validation and approval to help me feel a certain way. A potent combo of traits that fits beautifully with others seeking things they might not feel within themselves either. I would listen, fix, support, abandon my life, myself, just to make sure other people were ok. And in turn, I’d be externally receiving what I internally couldn’t find: approval, validation, acceptance, and a feeling of safety, and belonging.

When you neglect the shit out of your needs, you have more time to look after other peoples. And when you have an external orientation of self, you rely on others to give you a sense of who you are. So people pleasers need people, maybe more than they think other people need them. For myself, at the pinnacle of my people pleasing career, in hindsight, people weren’t so much asking me to do all of the things I felt burdened to do. It was my own agenda. Making other peoples business my issue, so I could get the external validation: the sweet hit of cultural approval that I was needing.

People pleasing shows up for many different reasons. It could be you didn’t get the kind of love and validation you needed when you were younger. It could be you weren’t taught how to love and validate yourself. It could be the culture that you grew up in held the belief that loving yourself and validating yourself was wrong and shameful. This later point was true for me.

Regardless of the reason of why you people please, it is generally externally sourcing things like love, validation, acceptance, and a feeling of safety. Things that you might have a hard time feeling a sense of connection to on your own. My behaviour for the most part was me trying to manage or control the way other people felt about me, in order to manage the way that I felt about myself. Something I was shocked to learn about myself was how manipulative I had been as a people pleaser. People pleasing is a form of manipulation, trying to control other peoples thoughts and feelings through omission, addition, avoidance, doing things, and often inauthentic behaviour. There is a difference between caring about other people, and caring what other people think about you.

If people liked me and approved of me, then I felt safe. If I felt insecure and like people weren’t approving, then I’d pick up my people pleasing pace. It’s an exhausting way to be. And ironically being friends with a people pleaser can be super exhausting too. A constant need for validation, or approval, or always trying to look good, and do things for you. And as people pleasers we give other people the job of helping to create a sense of who we are. And that is a huge ask too!

Towards the end it was hard for me to connect to a felt sense of self. This was the hardest thing to reconcile. But this is the nature of people pleasing. You become so externally focused, because you're sourcing your sense of self and safety from others, that you lose touch with your core.

For those of you reading that are people pleasers or interested in recovery, there is 100 percent hope! I want to share some things that have helped me along my own journey:

Becoming the expert of you:

This involves starting to slow down in order to start to connect with yourself. This is the idea of placing yourself in the role of expert, of hero, and starting to shift your focus internally. This involves starting to get to know yourself, and learning about the things that help you to feel supported, empowered and learning how to internally source things you might have been externally looking for.

Building a forever home:

This is the idea of cultivating an internal landscape that might help you to feel a sense of kindness, love and acceptance and maybe eventually safety from within. For me I found a few things that really helped were:

1. Cultivating Self-Compassion. Self-compassion is a way of being with yourself. It’s not about looking to change or fix, or be better, it is about being able to offer yourself love and kindness regardless of your external circumstances. The resource Self-Compassion by Kristen Neff was hugely helpful for me. It might be starting with telling yourself you are OK just as you are, and then working towards saying I love you. Meet yourself with where you are and what you can connect with.

2. Cultivating a self-compassionate relationship with your body. For many people this can be a challenging and sometimes scary thing to do. Go slow, be kind and call upon professional support. A therapist, a trauma-informed yoga teacher, or anyone whom you trust that might be able to help guide you. The idea is to build a relationship, a space within, where you can go to to feel the things that you were externally trying to find. If we can learn to cultivate this space within, we are less likely to engage in external seeking behaviours that can be really harmful to us. Additionally, research shows that generating self-compassion has an incredible over all affect to the functioning of your whole body. It places us back into a coherent natural biological rhythm where we are able to function optimally and with ease. (Stay tuned for another blog post about this cool science backed stuff and check our Heart Math if you are interested!)

3. Another aspect of this, if we are able to connect with our bodies, we can begin to listen and hear the incredible innate wisdom that is within. We can start to learn about our needs, and our boundaries. And from there learn how to meet them and honour them. It can be about learning to say no, and being ok if people get upset. If people get upset its 1) there own upset to care for, not yours to manage or fix 2) if someone gets upset from you setting boundaries they might hav been benefiting from you not having any to start with and that’s important information.

Harnessing the Power of Awareness:

1. Harnessing the power of awareness. If we can slow down enough to witness our thoughts, and feelings then we give ourselves an opportunity to step outside of them. For me it has been checking in with what is guiding me, and within the people pleasing mindset it was generally fear. The fear of not being enough, of not getting approval, of getting kicked out of my social group, or not fitting in. If we can slow down enough to question if these things are valid, this gives us a chance to create new thought and behavioural patterns. As well as checking in with what we are needing. From here we can learn how to self-soothe and take care of our needs, rather than externally sourcing someone or something. It is human nature to support each other with our needs, however when we become solely reliant on others to fulfill them, this becomes a problem, as within the people pleaser mindset.

2. Accountability through awareness. Along the idea of witnessing ourselves, its witnessing the stories that we hold about ourselves and the feelings that are attached to them. Although we might not have wanted these beliefs or stories about ourselves, they are our own. Nobody else's. And that can be empowering! If we can remind ourselves that nobody else holds these stories, that means nobody else is making us feel a certain way, or do certain things - these are stemming from ourselves. This means we have the power, nobody else, to change them. The book Co-Dependant No more by Melody Beattie was really helpful for me in untangling some of my beliefs and stories.

Heat-Based Intentions:

1. This is being mindful of your intention. In yogic philosophy, a pivotal ideology, is staying connected to your intention versus the outcome. We can never have control over the outcome, for example, what other people think of us, but we can have control over what our intentions are. If we focus on a heart-based intention, so a quality or feeling of love, or peace or acceptance of self, then we are not relying on external validation or outcomes to help us feel a certain way. We are already getting what we need from our intention and filling us up internally verses looking externally.

With any kind of shift or quality you are starting to cultivate, be kind and go slow! This is a whole new way of learning to be with yourself. Meet yourself exactly as you are, and know that some days will be a lot harder than others. Each challenge you meet is all about learning, and it is nothing to do with yourself worth. Your self worth is inherent to the billions of years of evolution that has occurred in order for you to be here right now… it has nothing to do with your ability to do, or not do, things.

I have more resources on my resource page, and if you ever have any questions I am here.

With so much love,


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